The estate tax

Steve Bodow


Salon Staff
July 27, 2000 11:02PM (UTC)

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The reason so many Americans support abolition of estate taxes is that we've become a 401(k)-obsessed culture. Right or wrong, we view the moneyed class not as a separate breed aloof and apart from the rest of us, but as something that (with the right portfolio) we can be part of.

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-- Russell Shaw

The reason repeal of the estate tax is popular is simple: Despite the fact that only two percent of families currently pay estate taxes, many (60 percent?) Americans expect to have assets in the millions when they die.

It doesn't take more than a spreadsheet or Internet savings calculator to figure out you'll be worth more than $2 million to $5 million if you work a steady job for 30 or 40 years, save and get average investment returns. Add your spouse and you could be seeing eight figures. And don't forget the new stock tycoons -- few day traders feel they will die with less than $675,000.

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-- Damien Del Russo

Steve Bodow thinks Americans favor repealing the estate tax because of a clever "right wing" misinformation campaign. Unfortunately he misses the obvious: Most folks hate the estate tax because they despise the idea of the federal government cashing in on their death and taking their money. They're not making some obtuse financial calculations of whether or not they will be rich enough to avoid taxation; they're against the idea in principle.

Bodow also avoids examining the irrationality of the current estate tax system. Theoretically, someone could inherit $675,000 and not pay a dime in taxes. Let's be honest: By most standards, that person would be wealthy. Should they be exempt from all taxes? Conversely, when someone reaches a higher level of wealth, should a third or a half of their estate be taken by the federal government? The logic seems to be punishing those categorized as "rich," not on raising revenue or even taxing wealth.

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-- Martin Fliegel

Some of the oldest and wealthiest family trusts such as Mellon, Carnegie and Rockefeller are due to expire soon. If the estate tax is repealed, they will avoid billions of dollars of taxes. Is it a coincidence that this obscure tax is suddenly a hot political issue for the Republicans?

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-- Chris Pavlopoulos


Salon Staff

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